I wrote the last page yesterday, on Thanksgiving day, in between servings of an apple and a pumpkin pie that I made. I'm on a solar sleeping schedule, going to bed around 8:30, waking up when it's still dark, and lying in bed thinking about stuff until I get up when it's halfway light.
Yesterday I started seriously thinking about going back to the northwest, and this morning, lying in bed, I made a decision:
If you've read Superweed 1, you may remember that bullet I dodged, when I almost bought into overpriced, waterless land with overenthusiastic unfocused younger people who are doomed to default on the payments and lose it all. This morning I decided to write them a letter and look into it again.
When little kids draw pictures, they're just drawing. Then adults -- giant robots irrevocably programmed with the mind patterns of their society -- ask the kids "What is it?" They mean "Justify your picture in terms of my consciousness and I will hold back the ever-present threat that we giant robots will beat you or let you starve." So the kid says "um... it's an airplane" or something. But that's just a story cooked up to coddle the smaller minds of the adults.
Every time I make a decision, I tell myself a little story to coddle the smallness of my own mind. This document is full of them, and some of you must think I'm a big idiot, arguing against big cities and then for them, for small towns and then against them, against the northwest and now for it. "He doesn't know what he wants."
I don't have to know what I want, or even want anything. I have chosen to go right up to the edges of a bunch of different living situations, and then back off. All choices justify themselves. Now I am choosing to go again to the edge of living in the woods. If I get even that far. Maybe I'll loop around again, from share-land to make-money-and-get-my-own-land to travel-to-somewhere-good-before-I-commit-to-a-job to the-only-good-place-is-on-some-land-now-dammit!
Into The Black Hole
It's November 30. My original plan was to be paying rent somewhere for December. Then, when my family offered to fly me to Seattle for Christmas, I wanted to stay back there 3 or 4 weeks, but my sister said I could stay with her only 5 days. I stayed a little too long with my aunt in Michigan and don't want to show up there again until a few days before my flight on December 20th. When I saw that I wasn't going to be settling, I asked to stay a week with friends in Boston and they turned me down. And my latest stay has not, as I had hoped and half expected, been extended:
All events have conspired to put me alone on the road for the first two weeks of December 1998. I've got no desire to explore the country and put another 1000 miles on my car, because I've already decided it's either Austin in January, or back to Washington state. Maybe I'll find a good spot in the woods and camp for a whole week. Tonight I'm at a rest stop near Steubenville Ohio, aiming for some co-ops in northeast Ohio, because the store I aimed for in Wheeling WV was out of business and I'm almost out of organic eggs and yogurt. Once again, I dreaded going back on the road, but now that I'm out here, it's fun.
How Exactly I Live
Behind the driver's seat are bags of less perishable food: bread, pasta, dried fruit, flours (organic rye, quinoa, and buckwheat), nuts, garlic, sweet potatoes, apples, and canned food (salmon, peaches, pumpkin). Then on the left back seat is my makeshift refrigerator: a box full of perishables that I leave uncovered at night, and then cover all day with my heavy down coat. In this weather, it works. I store most of my food in Adams peanut butter jars -- the opening at the top is the full width of the jar so they're super-easy to fill and to clean. When I open one of my big cans of peaches or pumpkin, whatever I don't eat right away goes in jars. In two big jars I keep two working sourdoughs of quinoa and rye. To start a sourdough, just mix flour and water in a jar open up on shelf, and wait for a yeast culture to get in and make it all bubbly. After I take a serving or two of sourdough out of a jar, I just add more flour and water and wait a few hours. Sometimes I fill the jars more than half full and they expand too far and leak a little, or I open one and there's a little explosion.
I sourdough my flours because I really love the taste, and because it's super-healthful -- the yeast action makes protein and B vitamins and other good stuff. When I use the sourdough quinoa, lately, I drop a big wad of it in boiling water, without stirring, and I get sort of a dumpling. Lately I also throw in (and cook) a banana, some fresh ginger, and (before the quinoa, to get it cooked) some fresh sweet potato/yam. Then I add butter and real maple syrup at the end.
I like my quinoa without eggs, and my other grains with eggs. To use my sour rye, I beat an egg with a fork, dump in some sourdough, typically some maple syrup and fruit, and some dry flour, sometimes with a touch of baking powder, to keep the texture bready instead of gummy. I stir just a little and fry it as a big pancake. I also have a lot of french toast -- beat an egg, stretch it with something (I like the juice from the canned peaches), dip in bread and fry it. With it I'll either fry a banana or warm up some peaches at the end. Lately I'll also throw in some pumpkin.
When my pancake or french toast is done, I move it from my Scanpan frying pan back into the steel saucepan where I mixed the eggs or batter, and eat it with plenty of maple syrup, butter, and an amazing biodynamic yogurt that they sell in this part of the country.
I do all this in my car. On the passenger side, I can fold the back seat flat all the way from the back window to the back of the front seat. At night this is where I sleep. I can't quite stretch out all the way, but I always sleep curled up anyway -- actually the worse thing is that it's too narrow for me to get into a full fetal position. In the morning, this platform becomes my kitchen -- I push my sleeping stuff against the back, and then set my two-burner propane stove up on a low box. Another little box holds my two pans, spoon, fork, two little knives (with ugly, beautifully sharp carbon steel blades -- got them each for about 25 cents), spatula, matches, and propane canister (those little things last a really long time). When the stove is lit, I keep both back seat windows open to flush out the carbon monoxide.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that's easy to digest and has complete protein. Technically it's not a grain but a fruit. Before I left Seattle I ordered a 25# bag of it from Central Co-op. Every week or two I find a place to set up the hand grinder I keep under the driver's seat, and grind a bunch more of it into flour. It's supposed to be pronounced "keen-wa".
A lot of people stay 3 hours or 8 hours overnight at rest stops. As far as I've seen, I'm the only one who stays 18 hours. I don't like to drive at night, so I try to find a place by 4PM, so I still have enough daylight to cook a meal. Some time after dark I'll lie down for 11 or 12 hours, not all of it asleep. I never get bored -- usually, I feel like I don't have enough time. The sun is barely up before it's down again, and I'm often afraid that some authority is going to make me move before I'm ready.
I bathe with a washcloth in bathroom sinks. It's nice to find a rest stop with warm water. I actually keep cleaner, shave more often, and wear nicer, cleaner clothes on the road than when I'm paying rent or housesitting alone. The "nice" appearance is a costume I keep up to hypnotize people into respecting me more. Only a careful observer would guess that I'm living in my car.
Of course I'm getting breaks. The longest I've gone without a place with bed and a warm bath is about 12 days. But I'm getting better.
I clean my clothes on the outside with a damp washcloth, and on the inside, well, I don't sweat much, and when I do, because of my low-toxin diet, it doesn't smell much. I piss in a quart juice bottle and dump it out. If I were a woman, I would practice and develop the skill of pissing in a bottle.
Youngstown, Kent, Akron, Wooster. The food co-ops and rest areas of Ohio blur one into the next. Thursday 12-3, and I'm off the side of the road in a tiny state forest, to get a break from lights and freeway noise.
Of course, when I described my diet in the last section, my diet shifted. The dairy fat, or something, started giving me night nausea, so now I'm trying more canned vegetables and beans and nut fats.
12-4. It is warm. It has been for a week, but it's getting warmer. I don't think it got down to 50F last night, and it might have been 65 today. It's after dark and I'm writing this outdoors, at a rest stop north of Columbus, without coat, hat, or shoes on, comforable. I'm afraid I'm going to lose my yogurt and eggs.
Today it finally happened: after I gave the Universe permission to let something bad (or feared or undesired) happen to me, if it would ultimately help me or get my life somewhere, I had my inevitable encounter with an Evil Cop. It was 3PM and I was aiming for a second night in the woods, when the cop appeared and -- after I politely walked from the out-of-the way spot where I was parked, up to the road where he was parked, to save him the trip -- told me to move my car up to where he was.
I wasn't going to spend a night ten feet from the highway, but before I got going, the cop -- in typical predatory behavior -- went away for a nimute and then came back meaner. He was already mean -- Wilhelm Reich should have seen the character armor on this guy -- and now he radioed in my licence plate (and I heard them instantly tell him my name as registered owner) and checked my licence and took my social security number to look me up and see if there was anything he could arrest me for.
I'm not a good liar so I told him (he said "What's goin on here?") that I was sleeping in my car next to the road for a night or two. He said, even though I was in a state forest, that he could arrest me for criminal trespassing. I wonder if he was lying. It's not against the law for cops to lie, except under oath, and even then it's not enforced. Anyway, he didn't arrest me.
I drove to the interstate and stopped at a McDonalds to throw out trash and groom myself in the bathroom. Still in shock from my run-in with Authority, I forgot my carefully practiced rituals and, for only the second time in my life, locked my keys in the car. This was only a few minutes after I gave the Universe permission (though it was not my preference) for something else bad to happen.
I had left my windows cracked, and I realized that, by reaching in with a long stick, I could pump the button that releases the lock on the hatchback. I found a long stick, and it was tricky and challenging, but I did it! I made it out! For a little while, every song on the radio sounded wonderful, and now this noisy rest stop feels like home.
Sunday 12-6. This morning I drove into Richmond Indiana and found the food co-op on the grounds of a college. They were having an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Even though I'd just eaten, I stuffed myself on pancakes fuller than I've been in a couple years, and I got away with it! I feel fine! I've got to abandon my mechanistic thinking about food. Even though the food I make myself has better nutrients and fewer toxins than food I can get anywhere else, eating my own food all the time is like circling around in my own space, or draining all the life out of my own energy. The longer I do it, the more I need to just eat something that someone else has made, and the better I feel doing so, no matter how toxic or unnourishing it's supposed to be. Of course, mechanistic dietary science could find an explanation in its own terms. Seek and you shall find! But why bother?
I also hung out for a few minutes with some great people and emerged, as I have many times before, into a consciousness from which my typical consciousness is pathetically narrow. I can't believe how much energy I've wasted trying to save a few pennies on gas, shifting into neutral on downslopes, trying to time traffic lights to avoid braking, looking at gas station prices instead of the rest of the infinite universe. I'm just playing a shrinking little game, trying to acquire the commodities of my post-industrial culture (organic food, simple living, radical life experience) by competing for the best deals.
Of course, in a little while, I fall back into that narrow consciousness. I'm back there already. It makes me furious: Why can't I just stay in the wider consciousness? How can I get back there? I suspect that getting back there is exactly what other people are trying to do when they smoke pot or drink alcohol. Of course, the more they do it, the less it works -- because, by doing the same thing over and over, they're narrowing their consciousness. But maybe you can widen your consciousness by narrowing it. Isn't that what the enlightenment-puritans are doing with their yogic breathing and their fasting? If so, aren't I doing the same thing with my joblessness and my obsessive thrift? Or it's like William Blake said, in my all-time favorite aphorism:
If The Fool Would Persist In His Folly, He Would Become Wise
I just got the idea a day or two ago, reading Morris Berman's discussion of medieval alchemy in The Reenchantment of the World -- that any way of narrowing your consciousness, if done right, will widen it. Now I have more respect for people who get obsessed with video games or even gambling or drugs or hoarding wealth or -- you name it! Housesitting for Tara I got obsessed with the minesweeper game on her computer and now I feel really good about it. I can't wait to get on a computer again and go in deeper.
So one of the things that this trip is really all about is totally indulging my obsessions with thrift and self-sufficiency and run-down midwest houses and road-tripping and living somewhere besides Seattle. The geographical journey is a vessel, or a disguise, for an emotional journey that -- I hope -- has gone forward even if the geographical journey goes in a circle and I end up back in the northwest.
Monday, December 7. I'm sure many of my readers have been in agony, thinking "Why doesn't he...? Why doesn't he...?" Well, whatever it is, I still haven't figured it out. But tonight I figured out something much more trivial: Truck stops are much better than rest areas. The big advantage is, I feel a lot more protected from cops. Even the disadvantages are secretly advantages: I don't know in advance where any truck stops are, or what they'll be like, so my traveling has more chaos and surprise, more shadow space for the hands of fate to work.
But doesn't less police presence mean more chance of being botherd by criminals? Sure. I don't care!
A criminal is more likely to seriously wound or murder me, but I'm not afraid of death or physical pain. I'm afraid of being confined for a long time, and that outcome is a million times more likely in a cop encounter than in a criminal encounter. And most of all, I'm afraid of vigorous alienation -- the whole world looking at me and glaring with indignation or shaking their heads with pity.
And if I meet a criminal who tries to rob or beat or rape or kill me, I am conscious of a whole world of entities who sympathize with me. But if I meet a cop who tries to stop me from living in my car, to force me to pay a fee just to occupy space in this universe, then I am conscious of a world of entities who sort of agree with the cop: "He should have to pay just to occupy space, because I have to. He's a freeloader. He does not deserve a pleasant or comfortable life except in return for having a job and serving as another grain of cement in the walls of our world."
I think there is a wider world of entities who agree with me: "Everyone deserves to have a pleasant, fun, and comfortable life without doing anything they don't like; if those other people don't give freely and unconditionally, it only proves that they don't like their own world." But I'm not conscious of this wider world. It's just an intellectual model, and not much comfort.
If I were conscious of such a world, what would I do?
Tuesday morning, and I'm getting a show, as a steamshovel demolishes the roofs over the gas pump areas of this truck stop. I've decided to go into Michigan early, before the inevitable bitter cold weather. I plan one more night on the road, and then maybe 5 with my grandpa, 6 with my aunt, 4 in Seattle with my sister, 3 on the coast for xmas, 5 more somewhere in Seattle, 1 with my aunt and then 2 or 3 more in my car on the way to Austin, around 10 apartment-sitting for my friend Jennifer, and then I hope I have some sense for what to do next.
My maternal grandfather, Bill Jordan, is 87 and still takes care of himself. He spends most days doing odd jobs on my cousin Mike's farm. He doesn't talk much and likes more than anything to go out in his boat and fish for bluegills. I may be more like him than like any other relative: like me, he's obsessed with thrift -- he goes to the supermarket only on the one day a week with the senior citizen discount. Like I would do, he sees that the neighbors aren't using the pears from their tree, and goes over and gets them from the tree and the ground when they're not home. He never cared about job status and worked casual physical jobs while my grandmother had the "professional" job in hospital administration.
They were difficult, controlling parents to my mom and her younger sister Janice. My mom stuck it out and went to college and worked and even bought her own house before she slipped up and married a guy (my dad) who was unlike her in every important way. But my aunt Janice got out early by getting pregnant and marrying my uncle Jerry when whe was 16. They're still together and sort of get along.
She's a lot happier now that they've sold their farm and cluttered run-down farmhouse to their son Mike and moved to a bigger, newer house. But she hates her job and talked a lot, while I was there, about dreading going to work. She's looked at some of my writings and knows I must be thinking "Retire now! Live cheap!" So she also justifies her choice to me by saying she loves to spend money and wouldn't want to live with less.
My aunt and my sister Sheila are a lot alike, according to my mom, who has known them both all their lives. Sometimes she calls one by the other's name. When we were kids, I would just hang out at home all the time, while Sheila ran around doing stuff that, when kids do it, is called wild and rebellious. Now we're both still exactly the same. I hang out at "home" all day -- in my car or in the house of whoever I'm staying with -- and she runs busily aroud Seattle to societal obligations and cultural events.
Sheila and her partner Adam met at my 28th birthday party. They'll probably be together as long as they're both alive, but they won't get married because marriage is part of their parents' hellish culture.
Most of us choose mates with the same personality and appearance as our parents, but with our own culture. Like my dad, Adam is tall and dark-haired and wears glasses and works very hard and gets in vaguely threatening bad moods. But he's willing to talk about emotional stuff and he's into natural food and medicine, and progressive politics and bicycling and houses that are taller than they are wide. I expect to be with a woman who's bratty and willful like my mom, but like me is into sloppy post-industrial simple living.
Adam has been in a series of computer industry start-up companies, where he designs the product and then the money partners take all the money for themselves, and he sues them for a tiny share. But even these tiny shares add up to -- from my perspective -- magnificent wealth. It's interesting how people get money and stay exactly the same: When Adam was poorer, he wanted to buy an old Honda wagon like I ended up buying, and he wanted to buy country land and build a primitive house, as I want to do. Now that he's richer, he still only admires my primitive car, and only thinks about primitive living, while continuing to live in the city and design computer products.
And I'm watching both Adam and Sheila keep the same level of happiness by becoming more sensitive and fussy -- that is, they move more and more experience from the realm of acceptance to the realm of resistance, so they can wield the power of money and keep resistance and acceptance in the balance that they're used to. I'm sure, if I got money, it would be very difficult not to do the same thing.
I'll spend Christmas with Sheila and Adam, Adam's brother Jake, and my mom and her soon-husband Charlie. My mom finally left my dad after 25 years. For months she felt happy and free and he felt sick and miserable. Then he pulled out of it and got together with somebody else, and he was happier while she, still alone, was unhappier. Actually she had an ongoing, offgoing fling with a guy, but finally decided absolutely that she was through with relationships. You know what happened then.
She was back in Michigan at a high school reunion and found out that a guy from her hometown lived only 75 miles from her, in Spokane. To me it seems totally absurd to think that somebody will be a good match for you just because they grew up in the same town, and I tell myself that she just had a non-rational but accurate intuition. But then, she grew up before the age of television and other instruments of cultural centralization that gave my generation, relative to hers, the same environment everywhere in the USA.
Anyway, Charlie's a truck driver, a year from retirement. He's a lot more emotionally loose than my dad. Last Christmas I visited them and my mom warned me that they weren't going to "cleanse" the house. I got there and found out she meant that they weren't going to hide all the porno.
Almost every guy I know is a big know-it-all, including myself. Charlie has a lot of facts and opinions and can't stand to lose an argument, but he's nice about it. Adam can tell spectacular stories about urban development and industrial history, and I think he goes a little ways beyond experience into imagination, but it's worth it. The one who's the most skilled at not getting caught up listening to himself is my old friend Ric -- but he's been led to that skill because he's a conservative surrounded by liberals.
I've known Ric since we were eleven. He was obsessed with World War II. Once or twice a substitute teacher accused him of copying a paper straight from a book, but that was the way he wrote. We used to have long, long political arguments where he would recite his conservative programming and I would recite my liberal programming. Now, after years of gradually learning to think more for ourselves, he's moved to libertarianism and I've moved to anarchism and we agree more than we disagree.
Like a couple other really smart people I went to school with, Ric went into the military. He experienced both basic training and West Point and was in Germany for a while, where he married a german woman, Christa. Now they're in Seattle with one or two kids, and he's finishing law school.
After Christmas I hope to stay a few nights with Betsy. I moved her into a group house with me in September of 93. Our cultural tastes are very close, and we got along great as friends. She had a little crush on me, but I wasn't interested because I didn't think she had enough of an edge. By the time I discovered that she did, it was too late. She was no longer interested. I tortured myself for a long time, but I finally built up escape velocity and got out of it. I half expected cruel fate to switch us around again, but she's holding the same awareness that I had at the beginning and have again now: that we work much better as friends than we would as a couple. She lives in a house with her boyfriend Steve and they have the agitated stability of a settled-in married couple.
I used to think a lot about finding a mate, but it was all based on a premise that is now obsolete: that I can find another person who will serve as a foundation from which I can live my life. Now I know that I want to make my own foundation. I don't need one person to support me emotionally and share my interests and thrill me with frightening intelligence and lie in my arms all night. I can do three of those things with any number of friends. Then finding the fourth won't be so hard.
If this ever has so many readers that people who have never met me talk about it with each other, they might get a grip on it by comparing it to other hand-written self-published magazines. But I've never read more than a few paragraphs of Cometbus or Dishwasher. I'm not actually that into zines. My all-time favorite is Brooke Simpson's defunct Space Girls, which covered the paranormal with an illuminating childish innocence, instead of the usual raving seriousness.
I'm no longer a big reader. The pit of my stomach hates reading and seldom lets me read for more than 10 minutes or read anything front to back. Sometimes it won't even let me think words or pictures or do anything but be in the tedious moment.
Still, I get almost all my good ideas from reading, either from quick intense devourings of whatever lands in front of my eyes, or from slow swallowing of whole books. The last 3 months, I've been working on 3 books.
I've already mentioned the perfect equality idea in The Lazy Man's Guide To Enlightenment. This book has more concentrated helpfulness than any other self-help book I've seen. The big idea that I've been extrapolating from it is that this world and everything in it is a game: I don't mean competition; I mean (1) a narrowing of consciousness (2) for fun.
If you and I play chess or cards or something, we are agreeing to temporarily forget our wider world and focus in to a simplified world of invented rules and symbols. If your concentration is strong enough, you can totally block your awareness that it's just a made-up game, that its original purpose is fun, that what happens in it is not very important, that the other players are your friends, that you can quit at any moment, and that you can change the rules.
We have all blocked our awareness of a wider world that is to this world as this world is to a game of Monopoly. If this idea bothers you, it's because you don't want to remember the wider world, because you're still having fun here in the game.
I'm not having fun. I'm going to change the rules, or get some people to join me in a different game, or "die" (get thrown out of the game) trying.
Morris Berman's The Reenchantment Of The World traces the history of the modern scientific mythos and argues that it's a destructive aberration and that we need to change to something like the old model, where our environment is a living consciousness that we participate in, not a lifeless machine that we view and manipulate from a distance.
I'm being more careful with language than Berman. His book is packed with great ideas, but he never gets outside the box of objective truth, or even close to the walls of the box. He buries his whole argument in disenchanted ground by repeatedly talking about "true" and "real" and "fact" without ever thinking about what he means.
Give me a definition of "real" or "truth" that's not circular, or that's grounded in experience. You can't, and you don't feel like you need to, because "truth" is at the foundation of your thinking.
Here's what's under that foundation: Objective truth is a political command. You are commanded to act to make all reports of experience consistent, and all mental models the same. If you experience any inconsistency among reports, or any differences among models, you are commanded to not accept that experience, to hold a tension between that experience and the "truth" model where all perspectives are consistent, and you are commanded to attack -- to attack what you see and think until it fits with what other people say, or to attack what other people say until it fits what you see and think.
The Command To Truth is a cause, or an effect, or an aspect, of a centralized authoritarian social organization. If we all have the same mental models and perceptions -- the same "truth" or "reality" -- then we are all interchangeable parts connected to -- or commanded by -- one central Truth. And anyone who influences that Truth simultaneously influences the minds and actions of all of us.
I want to bring down the Tower of Babel. Has anyone read Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines Of Doctor Hoffman? I was totally on Hoffman's side. I want to see the Global Reality Monolith broken into ruins in a crazy dream-logic jungle of a billion conflicting, cooperating, growing, dying, breeding perspectives.
My third reading project is Our Haunted Planet by John Keel, my favorite paranormal author if I exclude Charles Fort by classifying him as a philosopher. Keel is an heir to Fort: There's a lot of really weird stuff going on in this world, and a lot of small-minded people who maintain their "knowledge" by ignoring whatever doesn't fit their little stories.
Sometimes Keel indulges in his own little stories, and sometimes he gets paranoid: every unexplained phenomenon is part of a sinister plan to control us. And sometimes he thinks what I usually think: the mystical and occult powers are playing jokes on us. UFO's are a hoax by fairies. And fairies are a hoax by something farther in that direction. And our model of one detached universe that's the same for all observers makes us, collectively, a giant cosmic straight man in the long comedy routine that we call "the history of civilization."
For example: The objective model says thunderbirds -- giant birds that can carry off people -- are either "real" or "not real." "Real" means that experience of thunderbirds is available to everyone and consistent. "Not real" means it's available to no one, except in "delusions" where -- Wow! This is really tricky! For now, I'll say a "delusion" is experience that kind of makes a dead end, that doesn't lead to any new relations.
But our experience of thunderbirds and "aliens" and... (if you look close, everything) has too many relations and consistencies for "not real" and not enough consistency for "real" -- and it's not available to everyone.
That's why we still don't have a crashed "saucer" or a bigfoot in a zoo or other "physical proof" -- by "proof" we mean a tool of objectification, something that can create the same experience for everyone in the world, and these phenomena actively evade objectification.
I chose thunderbirds because there's a famous photograph of a dead giant bird, with men with their arms stretched out to measure its wingspan. Hundreds of people have seen it. But now, nobody can find a copy. So we have a man-made physical object behaving like a mystical beast. This tells me that certain regions of experience are acting mindfully to confound our notions of "truth," to make fun of us or teach us to think differently.
It's Thursday 12-17. I stayed 6 nights with my grandpa snd I wish I'd gone 7, because he liked having me there and my aunt and uncle seem not to. It's a nightmare: they're polite and even casual, but I'm working harder and harder to not do anything wrong, and I keep finding out about one thing after another that I've done wrong. I stained a plate in the oven, and when I thought I redeemed myself by bleaching it clean, it turns out I spilled a drop of bleach and ruined the carpet. I hope some readers are laughing. Here's the good side: We're all slaves to the exaggerated preservation of dead physical objects, but I know I'm a slave, and the moment I get out of my chains is the moment I'm free.
As I meant to, I'm playing minesweeper on the computer hours a day. There's a big grid, and under every square is either a mine, or a number that says how many of the eight surrounding squares have mines. To win, you have to uncover every number without uncovering any mines.
It's an amazing exercise: the challenge of working through the logic, the moment of illumination as I discover a new trick to uncover more squares, and then the learning transformation, as each time I think it through faster, until I'm doing it without thinking.
Nobody appreciates what I'm doing. Minesweeper is strangely similar to the game Ragle Gumm plays in Philip K. Dick's Time Out Of Joint -- he has no job and makes a cheap living off prize money from a newspaper puzzle, and everyone seems to think he's wasting his life, but his work on the puzzle turns out to be the most important job in the world. I love that idea -- that behavior that seems trivial and wasteful has hidden relations through which it's immensely valuable.
I'm working on no longer judging people for "wasting" their lives watching TV and going to empty, numbing jobs to make money to spend on more and more scrupulous protection and control of a larger and larger body of possessions. It all must have some secret value.
Time Out Of Joint is strangely similar to The Truman Show, my favorite recent film and a big help inspiring me to buy my car and go on this trip.
The Human Show
What we call "the world" is a tiny, enclosed, controlled environment, a simplified idealized model of a much bigger world that we don't see -- except sometimes we see little hints: strange things falling from the sky, or patterns and intelligence in events that we are told are random and mindless.
The purpose of this smaller world is to entertain the perspective of the bigger world. It's all orchestrated to give us interesting life experiences and keep us from finding out about the outside world, because then the show will be over.
But in our hearts we want to break out into the bigger world, and some of the outsiders are working to help us. Sometimes they get past the control mechanisms, and we see people alive who we thought were dead, or fascinating strangers tell us that our world is all an illusion. Immediately these events are covered up and explained away.
It's the Solstice, 21 December 98. I'm at my sister's place in Seattle, and it's colder here than it's been anywhere on my trip.
I've read 3 months of mail, including the Zine World reviews of Superweed 1: two raves and something even more deeply inspiring -- a total trashing. I've never been called mentally lazy before, and I'm motivated by the discovery that a perspective exists from which there is that much room for me to think harder. But I'm afraid my critic and her kind are going to really hate this issue: Even to me, compared to my last few publications, it seems lazy and complacent and shallow and self-absorbed. I feel like I'm sleepwalking through this issue, sloppily chattering about my boring life. I hope some of my readers will still like me. I once owned more than 30 albums by the british hippie space rock band Hawkwind. Most of them were mostly crap, but most of them also had at least one masterpiece song, and they were all worth owning just as parts of the Hawkwind universe.
Next day and I'm still thinking about that negative review. Twice she accuses me of being privileged. What does she mean? Growing up, my family income must have been just about the american median. Is that immoral? I think she read my references to money from my parents, and to living years without a job, and made a lazy mental connection between the two.
I'll say again what I said in #1: If you add up all the money I've had as an adult -- what I got from my parents, what I started with from my parents, and what I got from selling parts of my life into slavery -- and you spread it out, it's only five or six thousand dollars a year. If I have savings and no job, and you have a job and no savings, it is because I am more willing than you to live cheaply. Until I got my car, I spent almost no money except on groceries, utilities, and the cheapest rent I could find. No restaurant meals, no admission-charging cultural events, no compact disks, and no clothes except from yard sales. Exceptions only in exceptional cases.
Please don't read a moralistic subtext. I don't think I'm more "good" than you for puritanically denying myself pleasures, or for keeping my hands clean of participation in industrial society. It's just that I find myself in a world that gives me a choice between money-bought stuff that doesn't make me happy, and freedom! Glorious unstructured time! I don't aim to shame, but to inspire. If you can live on $500 a month, and get a job for $1500 a month, you can live two thirds of your life free!
Do you feel like it's "wrong" for your freedom to be related to someone else's slavery? First, nobody ever has to do anything they don't want to do. For different people the alternatives are more or less extreme, but everyone has a choice, and we all adjust emotionally to our particular situations. I mean I think Bill Gates's choice to run microsoft according to his passions, and have only $5 billion instead of $50 billion, feels as extreme to him as some foreign sweatshop worker's choice to stop working, and be beaten to death, feels to her.
I benefit from slavery. I love eating bananas that are picked and brought to me by people who hate it. They are free to quit, and I encourage them to quit, even though I would lose my bananas. As long as they don't quit, I am going to make the best of their suffering by using it to drive my pleasure.
Second, we're all equally valuable, and we're all in this together, and the important thing is not whether it's you or me who is free, but to get as many of us as free as we can as soon as we can.
It's like we're all on a sinking ship, and some people are saying "I won't get off until everyone else gets off." Use logic: If more than one person says that, those who say it will never get off. And some people are saying "As long as I can't get off, I won't let anyone else off." Those are the petty, spiteful, self-centered people who resent me not having a job as long as they have to have one.
I just want to get the damn ship empty. I don't care if it's you or me. Every time I hear about someone who's able to live without a job, I get a warm glow inside and feel really happy for them, because I love other people. Nyah nyah nyah. I don't care how they're able to do it -- robbing banks or inheriting money or living in libraries or saving money from a job designing chemical weapons. It's one more free person and that's beautiful.
I ask my resentful employed critics to forgive me for snapping back at them. It was fun but it's not going to get us out of this. I just now read (on the internet!) the idea that every communication is an extension of love or a request for love. A criticism is a request: We are saying "I was told that if I followed this rule, I would be given love. But this other person is not following the rule at all -- compared to them, I'm following it really really well. So please can I have some love? Or at least will you punish the other person so that, relative to them, I feel loved?"
My critics are saying that, appealing to the rule "Do work for other people in a societally-sanctioned work exchange system." And I'm saying it, appealing to the rule "Empathize with the freedom and happiness of others."
It's going to take me a while, but I intend to stop saying it. I declare myself no more deserving of love or happiness than the worst liars and murderers in history, and I ask that no one be punished for anything, ever.
I'm practicing a philosophy of get-away-with-ism: I want everyone to get away with everything. Already, when I watch TV crime shows, even non-fiction ones, I usually want the criminals to get away. But now I'm expanding it into areas where I've been habitually vindictive: I want Pinochet to get away with those tortures and murders.This is a tough one, but I want the Philadelphia police to get away with the MOVE murders -- and the ATF to get away with the Waco massacre, and all the american Big Gang members to get away with all the famous and obscure political assassinations and imprisonments.
Of course I want the killing stopped and the prisoners released. But once something has been done, I want everyone responsible to have a long, free, and happy life.
Escaping punishment/revenge -- causing suffering without being made to suffer in return -- is only one sense of getting-away-with. I was in a burrito place with Betsy and she noticed that the mural on the wall was really badly painted. It was -- but I caught myself: someone who is not a very good painter has got away with getting their painting on ths wall. Right on!
I'll define getting-away-with as doing or experiencing something without doing or experiencing something else that's supposed to go with it. So you are disconnecting the links that hold our reality in place. That's heroic.
January 2. I've had Christmas on the Washington coast, new year's eve in Seattle, and now I'm back in Michigan, snowbound. I landed last night with a giant winter storm coming right out of the direction I'm going. So I'm staying another two nights with my grandpa, watching TV and watching the snow stack up outside.
...January 9, Saturday. I'm in Jen's apartment in Austin. I left Michigan Tuesday morning and drove double-long days -- 9 and 13 and 11 hours including stops -- to get here Thursday night. Tuesday as I went south into Indiana the roads got worse and the air got colder, until I was driving on wet ice at zero Fahrenheit, and the passing trucks would throw dirty salt water on my windshield and it would instantly freeze.
I stayed in a motel in Terre Haute, and the next night, past Little Rock, it was warm enough to sleep comfortably in my car. Driving into Austin the night after that, it was 68.
What next? Jen gets back in as few as 4 1/2 days. She says I can keep staying here, but this apartment is obviously too small to hold two people comfortably. I think I'm going to move on. The climate here is perfect, but I miss the northwest and all my people there.
I'm remembering all the readers who love my work, but the squeaky wheel gets oiled: I'm still digesting that negative review. I notice that I have less respect now for all negative reviews, and all negativity. No matter what it is, there are some people who hate it. But these people are powerless. The people who love it go on loving it and the creator goes on creating it.
And the reviewer's most damning accusation, "wasted talent," is just a reflection of my own obsession with not wasting my life, or a detection of the throbbing subtext, in most of my writing, that i'm afraid I'm wasting my life.
Except the word "talent" turns the whole thing into a joke. What if I don't have any talent? The implication is, if I'm talentless, then my zine is fine. Or, the less talent I have, the better my work is.
The implication is that certain skills go with certain obligations. Or, the concept "wasted talent" is a command, learned and obeyed and dropped on the next person, that people with certain skills do certain things and not do other things.
That hot potato stops here. I'm holding it. That's the most valuable use I can think of for my supposed "talent": to be a traitor to the idea of talent-obligations, to make an example of having skills and not using them the way I'm told to use them.
Remember: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Merely by agreeing to be weak, you can break some chains and get some people free!
Back in Seattle I played a computer game called "Abe's Oddysee" (their spelling). I love the game's politics: you're a slave worker using stealth and magic to escape an industrial factory and free the other workers. But in the sub-politics, I found myself entering slavery: initially fun puzzles and challenges became tedious chores that I had to do over and over again, until I got them exactly perfect, before I could go on to any more fun.
I quit playing. Some critic, sneezing with the puritan-work-ethic disease that animates our culture, might spit up the idea that I "failed," that I didn't "have what it takes" to "prove myself" by succeeding in the game. Of course that's absurd, because it's a game -- the wider purpose is not for Abe to free his race -- it's for you to have fun. Nobody failed unless the game designers were aiming to sell their game to people like me.
What if this life is the same way? What if the wider purpose is not for (your name) to succeed, but for your wider self, the player, to have fun? And if you spend your life hanging out in coffee shops when you could have won a nobel prize, no one has failed, except if those with the power to design the game wanted you to go for the nobel prize, they failed to make it fun enough.
Stay Or Go
Friday I was staying in Austin. Saturday I was going. Sunday another Austin friend, Laura, drove me around and showed me the city and took me to a party, and I was staying. Today, Monday, I feel again like going back to Seattle. I feel like I'll stay only if a room or a job falls into my lap. I'm practicing a radical life strategy: do what's easy, and accept what happens. Also, I'm doubting that strategy. Voices in one ear say "Go with the flow. Take it easy. Let go. Relax. It will be alright." Voices in the other ear say "Be proactive. Take charge of your life. You've got to work to get anywhere." I like the first voices better, and they've been more accurate -- the experiences and situations that have come out of nowhere have been more rewarding (and easier) than the ones I worked for.
Actually, the only really good reward I've ever got from work was when the work itself was rewarding. Some people say "Do what you love and the money will follow," but in my experience the rule is "Do what you love and you don't care that the money doesn't follow." That's what love means.
Except I still need money. Or, I want shelter and good food and social relations, and one of my labors of love is to have them without doing what I hate.
Excuse me for being ambitious. I know some people are anticipating the sadistic relief they will feel when they see me finally get a job."Ahh, everyone does have to work." That's not what it's about. Keep watching.
First I went to the state-of-the-art upscale Central Market. The designers of Hell just keep getting better. The place was laid out like a choiceless labyrinth, or a disneyland ride, or a cattle plant: You go in one door, and you wind back and forth through the store's entire inventory, and finally you come out at the cash registers. And if you want to go get something from the beginning, you can't just walk over there. There's a wall! You have to walk half a mile back through the maze.
Do people put up with this? Rich people put up with it. Also, the store is full of these little machines: If you buy something without a bar code, you have to put it on the machine, and punch in the number, and it prints a bar code which you stick on your food.
Doesn't this save work for the cashiers? No! It would if, for every second anyone spent at the bar code machines, a cashier got to spend an extra second hanging out in the break room while still being paid. Then I would like the machines. But the cashiers still have to work the same amount, except, since all they do is scan bar codes, their work is now more mindless and repetitive, and they probably get paid less. The shopper's extra chore does nothing but make money for the owners. And in return, of course, the owners price the food higher.
Then I drove to the other side of the freeway, to the Fiesta Mart, the best conventional supermarket I've ever seen -- wide open layout, low prices, and enormous selection -- even some organic and bulk foods.
I was almost the only white person in the entire store. What does this mean?
Into My Lap
Naturally, when I was all ready to leave Austin, right after changing my car's oil and putting in cold-weather 5W-30, with a letter in my pocket to friends in San Francisco who I planned to visit on the way north, I found an ad for a cheap room in a great location.
I've gone there and met everyone. If they choose me, I expect to stay in Austin; if they don't, I expect to go.
I wouldn't want it this way all the time, but it's a relief, for a change, to have my fate in someone else's hands. Really of course, horribly, I'm still responsible.
In unimaginative pop psychology, decisions are heart vs. mind, or passion vs. fear. But I've got to have it more complicated. I don't feel passion about either Austin or Seattle. On the side of Austin is pure intellect: It's good for me to try something different, or it will expand my consciousness to learn a new city; Austin fits my intellectual ideals of climate and culture better than Seattle. And on the side of Seattle is visceral comfort: going back there feels like curling up into a ball under a big warm blanket.
I'm in Seattle! It's February 15. I was lured out of Austin by the possibility of a job in Olympia. On the way back, I stopped to visit Adam's cynical, alcoholic brother Jake in his tiny, shoddy house in Compton, the "worst" part of L.A. It was the best time I had on my whole trip. Jake is -- for me -- super-easy to get along with. His neighborhood is all little houses on big weedy yards, and several of the neighbors keep roosters, so it halfway feels like the country even though it's in the middle of a giant city. We spent a whole week playing Zelda Ocarina Of Time on Jake's new nintendo.
I was totally comfortable and totally inspired.
I am no longer wishing for or working for industrial collapse. I want industry to be gently dismantled and re-ordered to preserve an environment where technology can survive and grow.
I have a vision of a dense, disheveled, filthy cyberpunk heaven: twenty trillion humans and hyperintelligent animals spawned by genetic experimentation, living in a global megalopolis of shacks with composting toilets and biodynamic gardens, and spectacular palaces, and cubic-mile complexes with forgotten rooms bigger than stadiums, playing with nanotechnology and terabyte chip implants and dimensional travel, moving in and out of worlds within worlds without end.
OK, OK -- I'm exhausted already just thinking about it. And more toys doesn't mean more playing; until we change inside, we'll just keep turning every new game into a fear-driven chore. But here's my closing aphorism: Life is not a game -- life is a toy.
Approximately The Author
Ran Prieur was born in a cold, monolithic building full of sick and dying people, where he was immediately physically abused and separated from his mother.
He spent the next 18 years with his biological parents, who disliked each other and argued all the time. This led him to abandon his ability to sense the emotions of other people; he has still only partly regained it.
From age 5 to 22, he attended rooms full of people his own age, with one older person at the front telling them all how to think; and he did many thousands of hours of paperwork displaying that he was thinking the way he was told. He didn't really have to do any of this, but he let himself be threatened and coerced into it for 18 years. This still fills him with deep shame and grief, which appear to his conscious mind as anger, destructive fantasies, and continuous value judgments.
More recently, he has spent several thousand hours doing chores to maintain the societal system that has abused him, in exchange for food and societally-tolerated shelter. For the last few years he has been desperately searching for a way to have food and shelter without these chores. So far he has totally failed.
He has also failed to ever have a girlfriend. He enjoys sleeping, cooking and eating, fantasizing, and abstract thinking; he suffers from increasingly sensitive insomnia, digestive troubles, and bodily resistance to sustained mental activity.
He is astonished that he has not just withered and died, and he has no rational explanation for his frequent cheerfulness and optimism.